LIVE: Castro is 2-for-2, one hit shy of 200


LIVE: Castro is 2-for-2, one hit shy of 200

Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011
Posted: 10:26 a.m.

Associated Press

Some solid play over the last nine days has helped the Milwaukee Brewers inch closer to their first division title since 1982.

The Brewers look to conclude their final road trip of the season with a second straight win over the rival Cubs on Wednesday.

After its three-game winning streak was snapped with a 5-2 loss in Monday's series opener, Milwaukee (91-64) scored four times in the third inning Tuesday en route to a 5-1 victory. The Brewers, who have won six of eight since a five-game skid, dropped their magic number for winning the NL Central to three. Since Wednesday is their final road game, they will clinch their first division title since 1982 at home barring a collapse.

"I think everybody is excited," said Shaun Marcum, who pitched eight solid innings Tuesday to earn the win. "We're not looking ahead to see when everything can happen. Just looking to go out (Wednesday) and try to get another win."

Rickie Weeks drove in two runs as Milwaukee reached 91 wins for the first time since 1992, when the club went 92-70 but missed the postseason. Corey Hart, who added an RBI on Tuesday, is 9 for 19 with five RBIs in his last five games versus Chicago.

The Brewers hope Randy Wolf (13-9, 3.45 ERA) can continue his recent success both overall and against the Cubs (68-87). The left-hander matched his win total from last season when he allowed three runs and struck out seven in seven innings of a 6-3 victory at Cincinnati on Friday, improving to 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in his last three starts.

Wolf has allowed just three runs over 19 2-3 innings while going 1-1 in three outings versus the Cubs this season. He gave up six hits and fanned seven over seven scoreless innings of a 1-0 loss at Wrigley Field on June 13.

He might not have to face Chicago third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who is day to day after leaving Tuesday's contest with a mild strain in his right quad.

Shortstop Starlin Castro, 5 for 15 with a home run against Wolf, homered Tuesday and is three hits shy of 200. The All-Star has reached base in 33 straight games, the longest such streak by a Cubs shortstop since Woody English in 1929. Castro's 336 career hits surpassed Glenn Beckert's franchise record for a player since 1900 in his first two seasons.

Scheduled Chicago starter Matt Garza (8-10, 3.51) has allowed 10 runs in 11 2-3 innings while splitting his two starts versus Milwaukee this year. The right-hander gave up five runs and two homers in six innings of a 12-7 victory over the Brewers at Wrigley Field on June 16.

Garza has pitched better recently, going 2-0 with a 2.67 ERA in four starts since losing to Atlanta on Aug. 25. He allowed three runs on a pair of Carlos Lee homers - including a two-run shot to tie the game in the ninth - and threw a career-high 124 pitches Friday in the Cubs' 4-3, 12-inning win over Houston.

"I want to finish strong, finish healthy and finish on a good note," Garza told the Cubs' official website.

Milwaukee sluggers Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are a combined 6 for 11 with four doubles off Garza.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Feeding off 'good karma,' Cubs believe everything happens for a reason

Feeding off 'good karma,' Cubs believe everything happens for a reason

LOS ANGELES - Ben Zobrist leaned to Matt Szczur and asked, "Hey, what do you got for me?"

Everybody wants a piece of Szczur's "good karma" right now.

And why not?

Anthony Rizzo breaks his bat in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. Then he strikes out twice to begin Game 4 and decides to switch to Matt Szczur's bat.

Boom: Home run and just like that, Rizzo is out of his postseason funk.

Addison Russell forgets his leggings. No matter. Szczur has some Russell can wear.

Boom: Two big home runs and just like that, Russell came to life and lifted the Cubs to two key victories.

Just as importantly, Russell has his mojo back.

"Definitely. I feel like my at-bats haven't been that bad this whole postseason, but you stick to your work ethic and you believe in yourself and you stay confident," he said after Thursday's Game 5 victory. 

"There's a little frustration there, but it's a different type of frustration. It's a frustration where you know you have the stuff to get the job done, but you want to help produce for your team and for your offense. And that's where I was kind of struggling a little bit with that frustration."

Szczur's not even on the Cubs' playoff roster, yet spent a second straight night in the bright lights of Hollywood, giving his take to reporters crowded around his locker and delivering a live interview on national TV talking about his underwear.

The good-natured outfielder believes it's all good karma coming back to him and the Cubs.

Before Game 4 Wednesday, ESPN re-ran a feature on Szczur's heroic act - donating bone marrow to a young girl from the Ukraine, which helped save her life at a time in his life when he was trying to make the nearly-impossible leap from college athletics to the pros.

"I didn't expect to talk to the media at all," Szczur said with a grin. "A lot of things have been coming out - the bone marrow story. 

"The same day everything came out, they ended up breaking out of slumps. And it just so happened to be with my stuff. It's good karma. I feel like a lot of things happen for a reason."

And now the Cubs are positioned just one win away from history. 

It's about time this franchise had some good karma in the postseason, eh?

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Szczur isn't just giving the interviews and absorbing the attention. 

Before Russell's offensive breakout in Game 4, the young shortstop asked Szczur - the ex-Villanova football star - to throw a football around in the outfield to loosen up and just get back to having fun on a baseball field. Now, the two plan to make it a part of their regular routine.

Szczur also wrapped another bat for Rizzo, just in case something happened to the one that helped the face of the franchise return to his typical self at the plate.

With a lineup now featuring confident, relaxed versions of Rizzo and Russell, the Cubs love their chances against Clayton Kershaw in a possible NLCS clincher in Game 6 Saturday at Wrigley Field.

So much so that they felt they could joke about the Cubs' World Series drought before boarding a plane back to Chicago.

A reporter asked Dexter Fowler how the Cubs get past the history of a team that hasn't made it to the World Series in 71 years.

"Well, for starters, I don't think any of us are 71 years old," Fowler deadpanned.

Jason Heyward interjected.

"I didn't know that," he said, poking some fun at the franchise drought.

"We weren't alive then," Fowler continued. "We've heard the history, but at the same time, we're trying to make history.

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

LOS ANGELES – Within minutes of the last out on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, ESPN’s @SportsCenter account sent out a photo of Moises Alou at the Wrigley Field wall to more than 30 million Twitter followers: “The last time the Cubs were up 3-2 in an NLCS was Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS vs. the Marlins. Most remember it as ‘the Bartman Game.’”

As Kerry Wood once said: “Irrelevant, dude.”
Look, the Cubs still need to find a way to beat either Clayton Kershaw or Rich Hill this weekend, with Kenley Jansen resting and waiting for the multiple-inning saves. The obligatory description for Kershaw is “the best pitcher on the planet.” Hill’s lefty curveball – and “the perceptual velocity” of his fastball – freezes hitters. Jansen has a mystical cutter reminiscent of the great Mariano Rivera. The top-heavy part of this Los Angeles playoff pitching staff has held the Cubs to zero runs in 16.1 innings.

But until proven otherwise, forget about this idea of a Cubs team weighed down by the history of a franchise that hasn’t played in the World Series since 1945.

Just look at Javier Baez getting in Anthony Rizzo’s airspace during Game 5, the human-highlight-film second baseman standing right next to the All-Star first baseman as he caught a Kike Hernandez pop-up for the second out of the third inning.

It didn’t matter that this was a 1-0 game and MVP-ballot players Justin Turner and Corey Seager were coming up. This is what the 2016 Cubs do. Rizzo caught the ball, quickly flipped it underhand and it bounced off Baez’s chest – in front of a sellout crowd of 54,449 and a national Fox Sports 1 audience.

“We always mess around,” Rizzo said at his locker inside a tight clubhouse jammed with media after an 8-4 win. “So I’m screaming: ‘Javy! Javy! I got it! I got it, Javy, I got it!’

“And usually he’ll yell at me: ‘Don’t miss it!’ Or I’ll yell at him: ‘Don’t miss it!’

“We do that a lot. If it’s a pop-up to him, I’ll go right behind him. It’s just little ways of slowing the game down and having fun, too.”

Rizzo is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency this year. As a super-utility guy, Baez got credit for 11 defensive runs saved in 383 innings at second base, or one less than co-leaders Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler, who each did it in almost 1,300 innings.

“Sometimes when I call (Rizzo) off to get a fly ball, he starts talking to me,” Baez said. “I tell him: ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want. Just don’t move my head. You can touch me if you want. Just don’t move my head.’

“And I told him to be ready for it, because I was going to do the same thing. You just got to be focused on the fly ball. No matter what’s happening around you, you just got to catch it.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

This isn’t about Bartman. It’s about a group of young, confident players who are growing up together and absolutely expect to be in this position. It’s manager Joe Maddon designing “Embrace The Target” T-shirts and telling them to show up to the ballpark whenever they want and then blow off batting practice.

“For sure, we’re relaxed,” said Baez, who’s gone viral during these playoffs, the rest of the country witnessing his amazing instincts and flashy personality. “I’m relaxed when I play defense.”

The thing is, Rizzo and Baez could be playing next to each other for the next five years, the same way Kris Bryant and Addison Russell will be anchoring the left side of the infield.

This is how Rizzo introduced Russell to The Show when a natural shortstop tried to learn second base on the fly last year and track pop-ups in front of 40,000 people: “Hey, watch out for that skateboard behind you! Don’t trip!”

“Oh yeah, we yell at each other all the time,” Rizzo said. “It’s just one of those things where you got to stay loose.”